Barrier to workers' party

Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group takes issue with Alan Thornett and his anti-party bloc with the Socialist Workers Party

The International Socialist Group is likely to be a major barrier at this Socialist Alliance conference to progressing the fight for a new workers' party. This might seem a strange conclusion, given the ISG support for a new party along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione Comunista in Italy. But this commitment is purely formal. It terms of struggle for a new party, the pro-party ISG is lining up with the anti-party Socialist Worker Party. So who is fooling whom? The SWP is opposed to the SA campaigning in the working class movement for a new working class party. At least on paper virtually all the rest of the SA takes the opposite view. So it is with some dismay that we see the ISG motion which says that whilst the party is a good idea, it is not for now. Instead, we should start campaigning work. This is immensely helpful to the SWP, who can support the motion because it avoids the question of campaigning for a workers' party. This hugely strengthens the position of the SWP in its resistance to a new party. We cannot outvote the SWP. Despite what cynics might say we can win them over. But persuasion is not simply a matter of rational arguments, although that helps. It is matter of uniting all the pro-party forces and showing in practice how our case can work. The problem is not with the SWP, but the pro-party opposition. In the past those in favour of a workers' party have been unable to unite. The May 3 meeting to composite pro-party motions was a step forward. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Communist Party of Great Britain, Revolutionary Democratic Group, Merseyside SA and James White agreed to composite their motions with the support of a number of SA indies. It is significant that this pro-workers' party bloc includes comrade White, who has been working with the ISG in Resistance. However, it was the absence of our pro-party friends from the meeting that shows exactly the problem. Workers Power refused to attend because, "while there appears to be similarities between the positions we have put forward and those of what you call a 'pro-party' bloc, the differences that exist between us and some of the groups and people named as being part of the bloc on what sort of party we need are vast and a 'bloc within a bloc' is not something we feel would be fruitful at the moment". We will have to see whether Workers Power's refusal to discuss with us will lead them to vote against our pro-party motion. Otherwise we are dealing with sectarianism - raising ideological differences above practical agreements to further the interests of the working class. What we have here seems to be a sectarian mindset. Alan Thornett of the ISG does not have that problem. He was prepared to come to our meeting at least to discuss with us. But at the 11th hour he changed his mind. The reason was that the ISG through its motion has aligned itself in an anti-party bloc with the SWP. This reminds me of when Blair formed an alliance with the much more powerful George W Bush. Blair would have us believe that he was influencing Bush and moderating the war drive. In fact Blair was assisting Bush's war drive by breaking the political isolation of US imperialism. In this sense Blair was worse than Bush. The latter made clear he was going to invade. But Blair played the dishonest liberal trying to deceive the people whilst supporting rightwing forces. The ISG is playing the same role in the SA The first step in putting real pressure on the SWP to move the SA towards a party is uniting the pro-workers' party opposition. By forming a bloc with the SWP, the ISG is letting the SWP off the hook. Rather than maximising the pressure on the SWP, the ISG is maximising the disunity in the pro-party bloc. I asked Resistance supporter James White about the situation. He explained his fear that the ISG would act as cover for the SWP. The SWP would sit back with its feet up while the ISG did the dirty work. The SWP did the same thing at the December 2001 conference when they formed a 'democratic and effective' bloc with the ISG and CPGB and waved goodbye to the Socialist Party. The ISG will provide the same sort of cover at this conference. Comrade White summed up the situation. He explained the danger of Alan Thornett's motion giving the SWP, and possibly others, a fig leaf to hide their sectarian position. It would mean the ISG 'did its duty' for left unity, whilst obstructing it in practice. Sometimes it was better to have the hard arguments out in the open rather than try to manipulate much larger forces into doing what you want. I am in agreement with James's assessment. We saw how Blair 'manipulated' Bush on the war question. Now Alan Thornett 'outmanoeuvres' John Rees on the party question! The problem with the ISG position is that it leads to dishonest politics. Logically the ISG comrades can only justify their position by misrepresenting their opponents. They have no other option. We are calling for the SA to adopt the aim of forming a party when the time is right. How can the ISG vote against this? Only by telling lies about our motion or by dumping their own position in practice without admitting it. We are calling on the SA to begin campaigning for a new workers' party. How can the ISG disagree with that? Only by misrepresentation or outright lies. It is not that Alan Thornett is a dishonest comrade who wants to tell lies. It is that the ISG has put itself in a political position where it can do nothing else. What kind of lies must the ISG tell? That we are ultra-lefts who are demanding an instant party tomorrow morning, regardless of the objective circumstances. Or that we do not want to link with broader forces in the working class movement. Or that the fight for a the united front is an alternative to fighting for a new workers' party when both go together. It is no surprise to hear James complaining that in his discussion with ISG comrades his position has been misrepresented. He says he has never demanded that the SA should "become a party as soon as possible". On the contrary he argues, as does our composite motion, that we need a campaign, inside and outside the SA, to win support for a new party. At the SA conference we can expect more of the same misrepresentation. We must be prepared to counter such arguments with the facts. It is not a matter of deciding a date to change our name to 'party', as if that were some magic wand. That is another issue for another conference to vote on. It is a matter of uniting the SA as a means of fighting for a party in the working class movement. It is a matter of acting like a party and demonstrating in practice to workers why we need such a party. The Socialist Alliance has not made any progress towards a new party. If anything, it has gone backwards. The war and the anti-war movement has been the major test for organisations based on or seeking to represent the working class. It is therefore time for all SA members to take stock in terms of what the SA has achieved and what it is failing to do. The SA failed the war test for political reasons, despite the undoubted work put in by some SA activists. Far from the SA having any real role in the anti-war movement, the 'united front' collapsed and the constituent parts of the alliance went off to do their own thing. Bedfordshire SA experienced the same process on a small scale in the Vauxhall dispute. Instead of seeing the dispute as connected to the fight to build the SA, the SWP went off to do their own SWP intervention. Yet the objective circumstances for winning the case for a new party are far better than in December 2001. The war and the firefighters' dispute have proved that to fight effectively against the pro-capitalist Labour government we need a workers' party. A workers' party must unite the two major pro-working class traditions within the British working class - socialist (left Labour) and Marxist (or communist). The war divided the Labour Party more deeply than any issue in recent years. It has led to unity in action between socialists and Marxists - inside and outside the Labour Party - who oppose the Labour government's imperialist adventure and are in solidarity with the Iraqi working class and the peoples of Iraq. We recognise the fact that the SA is not a workers' party and cannot become one merely by adding the word 'party' to its name. The SA represents a minority of the forces of the left. Whilst it contains within its ranks comrades from both traditions working together, the majority are from the Marxist tradition. Although the SWP has only a minority of seats on the SA executive, the SA is dominated numerically and organisationally by the SWP and exhibits the strengths and weaknesses of SWP politics. Under the hegemony of the SWP, the SA is not much more than an electoral united front without its own regular publication. The SA has been unable to intervene effectively in the firefighters' dispute or the anti-war movement, because the decisive forces in the SA see those struggles as the realms of other 'united fronts'. The postponement of the SA conference before the start of the war put on hold any possible resolution of the political differences that divide the SA and the possibility of any united intervention. The SA could and should have been a campaign for a new workers' party. This would require the development of a proper political life in the alliance, regular activity and the publication of a regular campaigning newspaper. The firefighters' dispute and the current war have provided major opportunities to advance the case both ideologically and practically for a new workers' party. The SA has missed these major opportunities to win the argument with broader sections of the working class. It has left many members wondering what the SA is for. The SA has in effect been sidelined. It would be easy simply to blame the SWP for this impasse. The largest organisation in the SA must take the largest share of the blame. But the pro-party 'faction' has so far failed to unite and press its case. We believe that the pro-party forces within the SA must unite more effectively than we have done so far. This is why the position of the ISG at this conference will determine whether we make progress. Campaigning for a workers' party Discussion meeting, immediately after the end of SA conference - The Narrowboat pub, 119 St Peter's Street, London N1. From the school exit, turn right and walk towards Angel tube. When you reach St Peter's Street, instead of turning right towards the tube, turn left. The pub is by the bridge over the canal. Sponsored by CPGB, AWL, RDG and various non-aligned SA members - all SA members and supporters invited.